Malawi is home to approximately 1,400,000 orphans depending on whose statistics you read and the year they were compiled.
According to UNICEF, nearly 13% of children have lost their parents or caregivers and 17% are living without their biological parents. It is not uncommon to find families with no parents due to disease or abandonment; in which the oldest sibling is caring for the younger ones. Without parents, obtaining an education and healthcare, accessing and maintaining adequate nutrition and fulfilling basic daily needs can be a struggle.
Only 6% of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi receive medical support, 4% get psychological support, 9% get material support and only 6% receive educational support. (UNICEF)
Pieces of legislation have been drafted: the Child Care Protection and Justice Act, the Wills and Inheritance Act and the Birth and Registration Act but they are yet to be enacted.
An orphaned child is a vulnerable child and is an easy target for predators of every ilk. There are those who would use them as child labourers, for sexual slaves or exploitation, grab any land or possessions they may have an inherent right to and as well will actually take material items which community or other helping groups may have given them to alleviate their struggle. Hope for an education or brighter prospects for the future can be lost.
For orphaned children who may be in conflict with the law, they often face harsh experiences with a criminal justice system that focuses more on punishment than restorative justice.
Child abuse has been on the rise but in response, has led thankfully, to a “Stop the Child Abuse:” campaign which in part distributed in May of 2007, a comic book to all primary schools. The books teach the children about their rights as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and are designed for 6-10 year olds.
The “grandmother phenomenon is the dominant orphan programme for the moment, I think in much of east and southern Africa,” said Stephen Lewis when he was UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.
The response to the plight of the orphans has been inadequate and of course worsened by the conditions of extreme poverty in Malawi and the erosion of the extended family; however, Malawi has received praise for its humane and exemplary treatment of the orphans despite its meagre resources.
Change Her World is proud and honoured to be working in concert with a locally established committee in the Chilumba area to alleviate the suffering of many of these orphaned and vulnerable children, particularly the girls.